Philly DA candidates spar at NAACP-WHYY debate [video]

    The seven Democratic candidates for Philadelphia district attorney met Thursday night for a debate at WHYY, co-sponsored by the Philadelphia NAACP and radio station WURD.

    The seven agreed broadly on the need to reduce prison populations, reduce the use of cash bail, and make the justice system more fair.

    One issue that did reveal some differences was the use of the death penalty.

    I asked them if they thought the death penalty has deterrent value — and if they’d seek it as DA.

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    Former Municipal Court Judge Teresa Carr Deni anchored one end of the responses.

    “I believe it does have deterrent value, and that’s why I would never announce a policy of never seeking the death penalty,” Deni said, adding she wouldn’t want a terrorist to think he could come to Philadelphia and cause mayhem without fear of execution.

    Three candidates — former prosecutors Joe Khan, Michael Untermeyer and Jack O’Neill — said they saw problems with the death penalty, but wouldn’t rule it out in some extreme cases.

    Tariq El-Shabazz, and Larry Krasner — said they’d never seek it, period.

    “For 30 years, my position has been I would never seek it,” Krasner said. “It is scientific fact that it does not deter anything except public schools.” (He meant that the enormous sums spent on death penalty cases would be better used for public goods such as education.)

    Former City Managing Director Rich Negrin said the death penalty “is not a deterrent and disproportionally impacts people of color” and he favors Gov. Tom Wolf’s moratorium on executions in Pennsylvania.

    Moderator Solomon Jones, who writes The Philadelphia Experiment blog for NewsWorks, asked what the candidates would do to reduce the use of stop-and-frisk techniques by the police.

    Former prosecutor O’Neill offered what he said is a practical way to deal with the problem.

    “The most effective way to stop stop-and-frisk is to hit police officers that do it where they care the most — their pocketbooks,” O’Neill said. “The reason they’re doing it, quite frankly, is because if they find something, like a gun or some drugs, then they’ll be subpoenaed to court and they’ll get overtime.”

    O’Neill said monitoring police reports and denying court overtime to officers who execute improper stops will have a quick impact.

    Others said the DA’s office should refuse to prosecute cases brought after questionable stops.

    You can see the entire debate on WHYY TV-12 on May 7 at 3:30 p.m.The primary is May 16th.

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